"I grew up in a family with a strong work ethic," New Jersey-bred Ripa tells Parade in 2002. "My father, a bus driver, never turned down overtime, because he wanted us to have great things in life." During grade school, the other kids taunt Ripa by chanting, "smelly Kelly eats peanut butter and jelly and has a fat belly." However Ripa tells the New York Times in 2001 that the teasing "prepared me for network TV, because after coming home from school every day crying over something some kid said, there's no producer or tabloid or network – nothing anybody can say or print – that's really going to get to me."
Ripa becomes a cheerleader in high school but says that didn't make her one of the cool kids. "Everyone says, 'You must have been popular.' But in my high school, you could be made fun of for cheering," she tells Allure in 2004. Ripa also makes regular appearances as a dancer on the USA Network's Dance Party USA and lands the lead in her school play, The Ugly Duckling, which inspires her to pursue acting. "There was nothing else I was very good at," Ripa tells Parade in 2002.
Ripa attends Camden County College and performs in several local theatre productions. "My parents were adamant about college, so I took a few courses and then would audition for everything," Ripa tells the Los Angeles Times in 2001. "I took things like psychology, things I couldn't get motivated to do...My father is still waiting for me to go to college." After about two weeks, she drops out and moves to New York, where she lands the role of Hayley Vaughan (left), a troubled party girl, on the ABC soap All My Children.
On the All My Children set, Ripa meets Mark Consuelos – newly hired to play her onscreen lover Mateo Santos (right). "When I met Mark, I was just sort of thunderstruck," she tells Redbook in 2007. "The next day I went up to him and, although I didn't even know his name, I said: 'I had a dream about you last night. We were married and had a little girl and were on a plane to Rome.'" Consuelos adds: "That was about as forthcoming as she was – and then she played hard to get." That summer, they begin dating in real-life.
After secretly dating for a year, Ripa and Consuelos elope in Las Vegas. "It just happened. The next thing you know, we're married, and then four months later we were pregnant," Consuelos tells Redbook. "It was a crazy way to get into a relationship." Ripa declares, "I've had a crush on my husband since the day I met him, and I'm so pleased that I still do all these years later." In June 1997, the newlyweds welcome their first son, Michael.
After cohost Kathie Lee Gifford leaves Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, Ripa appears on the morning talk show for her first guest-host audition. One of that day's guests, psychic Char Margolis, tells the world a secret that Ripa had been keeping under wraps: She's pregnant with her second child. A stammering, blushing Ripa replies: "Well, I haven't told my boss yet!" In June 2001, she gives birth to Lola Grace.
Ripa edges out Dolly Parton and Valerie Bertinelli when she is named co-host of Live. By November, Live's young-audience demographics increase by 80 percent, with Regis Philbin (left) crediting Ripa for bringing "a new life to the show."
After being named one of PEOPLE's 25 Most Intriguing, Ripa serves as national chair for the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) "Tie One On for Safety" campaign. Her involvement is motivated by her sister Linda, who was almost killed by a drunk driver in 1999. "It really taught us what's important," Ripa tells Redbook.
After three Daytime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress, Ripa ends her 12-year run on All My Children. Her husband and costar Consuelos voluntarily leaves the show as well. The following February, Ripa and Consuelos welcome their third child, Joaquin, to their brood.
Ripa plays an unemployed ex-soap star with Faith Ford (right) in ABC's Hope & Faith. "I was always the victim on AMC: I was shot, stabbed, kidnapped, poisoned, gassed, blown up and raped," Ripa tells the AP. "There were very few laughs for me." H&F's debut gives ABC its best Friday premiere score since 1996, but it loses momentum by its third and last season. "I was so over-extended..." Ripa tells Shape, "I told Mark when the sitcom ended that I never wanted to work that hard again."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Globe; Everett Collection; ABC; JPI; Splash News Online; Everett Collection; Globe; ABC